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Israel on 8mm.

Mitchell Abidor
July 12, 2013
by Mitchell Abidor 8mmCameraIsrael: A Home Movie, is a documentary from below. The filmmakers, Arik Bernstein, its “creator,” and director Eliav Lilti, sent out a call for home movies made in Palestine and Israel, and they then assembled a history of the land from 1930 until the 1970s, with the amateur filmmakers providing commentary on their own mostly silent films. As one of the commentators says, “We, with our home movies, filmed the truth” — though certainly not the whole truth (as if that were possible), since there are two levels of selection here, first those who sent films and then the choice made in editing the footage. But we, unquestionably, see numerous truths, some quite revealing. We see the struggles of those newly arrived in Palestine to establish kibbutzim. We see European Jewish men, in suits and ties in the stifling Middle Eastern heat, trying to adjust to a former life that included skiing in the Swiss Alps. We see the home life of Sephardim before their arrival in Israel, the women dressed to the nines in mink stoles. We see the almost criminally harsh conditions of Yemeni Jews brought to Israel under the auspices of Operation Magic Carpet, the tents in which they were camped providing insufficient shelter against snows they had never previously experienced. israel a home movie - 3We also see personal truths about the country’s wars, which a surprising number of men filmed with home movie cameras: from the clowning and enthusiasm of the War for Independence and the subsequent victory parade, to the pride and arrogance of the Six-Day War, to the dreadful clusterfuck that was the Yom Kippur War. Through this progression of wars we see the degeneration of Israeli society — not just through the filming of the bloated bodies of dead Arab soldiers, but in the casual mistreatment of enemy soldiers, stripped to their underwear, beaten for no obvious reason, and made to lie down, stand up and then lie down again by the MPs guarding them. With no one intervening, the camera continues to roll . . . The blending of the martial and the religious, and the willful blindness of Israelis to the Arabs around them, are made clear in a home movie of Moroccan wedding that took place at the Cave of Machpelah shortly after the victory in 1967. The bride talks about how they had the idea to have the first Jewish wedding in that cave — legendary burial site of the biblical Abraham — in centuries, how there were eight couples who participated, and how the event was so joyous that “the Arabs applauded,” as we meanwhile see the sullen faces of the natives of Hebron. The groom arrives in his uniform, the khupe is made of a Torah cover from a military scroll and is held up on the tips of rifles by four uniformed soldiers. The disturbing blend of religion, personal life, and the military in Israel couldn’t be more glaringly revealed. But the overwhelming truth of the film resides in its vision of the Arabs. That there are no Arab home movies included is itself meaningful. More meaningful still is the way average Israelis treated Arabs in their home movies. One of the commentators says, over footage of Arabs on camelback, that the Jews viewed the Arabs as “exotic,” and that’s how they are depicted in even the most innocent footage. The movie camera here replaces the artist’s canvas in turning the Arab into the object of the Orientalist vision, with the men on their camels, the fields being worked with primitive tools, the women walking from the market with their commissions transported on their heads . . . Then there is less innocent footage: of Palestinians leaving their homes in 1948, and after the defeat in 1967; of a minaret being destroyed (“Don’t let Arafat see this,” the speaker says) so the mosque can be converted into a synagogue (“A minaret isn’t holy,” we’re told). The speakers are occasionally shocked by their own films, but the facts remain. On one rare occasion an Arab is allowed to speak. A year after the victory in the Six-Day War, there was a mass hike through the Occupied Territories, and one participant with a camera that allowed for recording sound asks a Palestinian his opinion of what’s happening. “It’s like a stab in the heart,” he says. This is one painful truth that emerges from “Israel: A Home Movie.” Mitchell Abidor is a contributing writer to our magazine and a translator, musician, and actor living in Brooklyn. His books include Communards: The Paris Commune of 1871 as Told by Those Who Fought For It.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.